Imagine fleeing for your life, managing to reach safety and the reality setting in that you are in a foreign country with no job, homeless and no prospects of attaining a work permit. Ugandan asylum seekers in Kenya face the harsh reality of living in abject poverty. LGBT refugee Henry Bugembe, and other refugees decided to act, not only for themselves, but also to support other Ugandan LGBT asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya. They set up the Team No Sleep Foundation in 2015, a business making bags and accessories to sell.
LGBT asylum seekers from Uganda face additional challenges in their new communities. In a telephone interview, Henry said that they were tired of the negative stereotypes of asylum seekers in the community. They felt judged by the community who did not understand the additional challenges and discrimination LGBT refugees experience. Traditionally refugees receive support from families, co-nationals and religious spaces. Support in tackling language barriers, employment and general information sharing. This is often not available to LGBT refugees as they are ostracised from their communities because of homophobia. After registering with the UNHCR for their refugee status determination, they are hesitant to access mainstream refugee support services where they experience victimisation from other refugees whose cultural and religious beliefs are intolerant of homosexuality.
Team No Sleep Foundation’s director Henry Bugembe said that they are fighting to help their community to step out of poverty. With the support of others, he is training LGBT refugees to sew bags and accessories for sale. In trying to create training opportunities for others, he faces the challenge of limited capacity. Henry does not have a permanent workspace or machines and sometimes lacks materials. Relying on hired machines and the good will of those who let him use their factory space, he is limited in the number of people he can train. Through sheer hard work, determination and resilience, the Foundation is growing. They sell their wares to different organisations, markets and at events.
On the future of the Foundation, Henry says that LGBT asylums seekers and refugees at the foundation are a family. In times of need, they huddle and support each other. Henry mentioned that he is grateful for the support they have received from the Kenyan LGBT community and several organisations.
It is Henry’s wish and hope that through sales, the profits from the Foundation will be used to secure machines and a permanent factory space. This will also increase their capacity to train more people.
Items made by Team No Sleep Foundation include long bags, backpacks, laptop bags, over gloves, cosmetic bags, ladies’ bags, passport holders and many more. To support their work or purchase items from the Team No Sleep Foundation, you can contact Henry on email@example.com or contact +25 473 535 6313.